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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
23 October 2017
Volume 630

Written Statements

Monday 23 October 2017

Treasury

Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012: Annual Report

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The annual report to Parliament under the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 for the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 has today been laid before Parliament.

The report is prepared in line with the requirements set out in the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 that the Government report annually to Parliament on the financial assistance given under the act.

Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

[HCWS191]

Defence

Franklin Wrecks

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I have today laid before Parliament a Ministry of Defence departmental minute detailing a gift which the UK intends to make to the Government of Canada. This reflects our long shared history and the closeness of our current bilateral relationship.

Sir John Franklin set sail from England in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in search of a Northwest Passage through the Arctic. Sadly, the ships and all their crew were lost.

In 1992, the wrecks were designated as a national historic site by the Canadian Government under the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Act—despite neither shipwreck having been found at that time. This significant step was taken as a result of the ships’ association with Franklin’s final expedition, and their role in the history of exploration of Canada’s north and the development of Canada as a nation.

Recognising the significance of these ships to the people of Canada, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the UK and Canadian Governments in 1997 assigning custody and control of the wrecks along with their contents to the Government of Canada (Parks Canada) with certain conditions should they be discovered.

Many attempts were made over the years to locate the ships, but only artefacts were found. The ships remained undiscovered until September 2014 when an expedition led by Parks Canada discovered the wreck of HMS Erebus. In September 2016, HMS Terror was also found.

Both wrecks are under relatively shallow Arctic Waters to the south of King William Island. The expeditions that located them brought together the Government of Canada as well as public, private and non-profit organizations. The use of state-of-the-art technology combined with Inuit knowledge made these historic discoveries possible.

During her recent visit to Canada, the Prime Minister made clear the importance of recognising our shared past. As the wrecks are of great historical and cultural value to Canada and recognising the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada, the Government believe the 1997 MOU should be replaced with an appropriate updated MOU, giving full ownership of the wrecks to Parks Canada. It is intended that the new MOU will include a clause to allow the UK to retain ownership of a small representative sample of artefacts. This exceptional arrangement will ensure that these historically significant wrecks and artefacts are appropriately conserved and allow items to be displayed for future generations in both Canadian and United Kingdom museums.

The transfer of ownership is expected to be undertaken over the coming weeks, subject to completion of the departmental minute process.

[HCWS193]

Home Department

G6 Meeting: Seville

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My noble Friend, Baroness Williams of Trafford, has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

The informal G6 group of Interior Ministers held its most recent meeting in Seville on 15 and 16 October 2017. Representatives from Morocco and the European Commission also attended the meeting.

The summit was chaired by the Spanish Minister of the Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido, and I represented the United Kingdom. The other participating states were represented by Mariusz Blaszczac (Minister of the Interior, Poland) and Jakub Skiba (Deputy Minister, Poland), Gérard Collomb (Minister of the Interior, France), and Dr Emily Haber (State Secretary, Germany). Morocco was represented by Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit. Italy was represented by their Ambassador to Spain. The European Commission was represented by Dimitris Avramopoulos (Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship) and Sir Julian King (Commissioner for the Security Union).

Following an informal dinner on Sunday evening, the first session on migration took place on Monday 16 October. Attendees agreed that continued co-operation between countries of origin and those of destination is critical. The discussion covered lessons to learn from work on the central and eastern Mediterranean routes, including positive results from the action plan of the European Council, the EU-Turkey deal, and bilateral work with Libya, Morocco and Nigeria. There was general consensus that migratory pressure remains high, and that pressure from the sub-Saharan region will continue to rise. Participants considered how best to counter this pressure along three lines: legal migration; appropriate development assistance in areas of greatest need; and the fight against illegal migration. Discussion also touched on how the EU and Morocco can build on current successful co-operation to better manage migratory pressure from the sub-Saharan region on Morocco.

The final session focused on counter-terrorism. There was general consensus on the importance of enhancing information and intelligence exchange through channels such as Interpol and Europol, and to continue existing good co-operation in this area. Recent rulings on communications data retention were covered, and the potential challenges for law enforcement agencies that these implied were discussed. Discussion also covered ways to improve co-operation between all stakeholders to remove terrorist related internet content and make the extremism counter-narrative more effective. Participants concluded with a discussion on radicalisation prevention processes, particularly among young people, agreeing on the benefits of exchanging experience and best practice with third countries.

In my interventions, I reaffirmed the UK’s continuing commitment to help member states manage the EU’s external borders and to deliver joint efforts upstream. I emphasised our support for EU actions in Africa and Asia that will impact on all Mediterranean routes, including faster allocation of EU funding for upstream projects and the new resettlement proposals to protect genuine refugees in first countries of asylum and reduce the need for secondary movement. During the session on counter-terrorism I highlighted the UK’s work in this area, in particular on the Prevent programme and tackling terrorists’ use of the internet. I encouraged attendees to ensure that proposed European Commission guidelines do not go further than necessary in placing unhelpful restrictions on member states’ data retention regimes.

[HCWS190]

Northern Ireland

Security

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This is the 11th written statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland since the Independent Monitoring Commission concluded its work in July 2011. It covers the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism, rather than from international terrorism, which Members will be aware is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who updates the House separately.

In the 10 months since my last statement, a small number of dissident republican terrorist groupings have continued their campaign of violence. They have planned attacks to murder people who work on a daily basis to serve the public. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have consistently demonstrated, through the democratic process, their desire for peace. They reject these groups and want a future free from violence. They recognise and value the increase in foreign direct investment, the enhanced job opportunities and the reduction in the number of victims of terror that has come about as a result of the peace process. Despite this overwhelming support for peace, dissident republican terrorists continue in their pursuit of violence.

The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland remains “Severe” (an attack is highly likely). Dissident republican terrorist groups have continued to attack officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), prison officers and members of the armed forces. There have been four attacks so far this year. In one sickening attack a police officer was shot at a busy petrol station in Belfast and sustained life changing injuries. These attacks, endanger the public and harm communities. In Great Britain, the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism is “Substantial” (an attack is a strong possibility).

Violent dissident republican terrorist groupings are fluid and they change regularly for a number of reasons. Firstly, the investigative effort of PSNI and MI5 have disrupted the activity of people and groupings who want to commit acts of terror in our community. Secondly, there is a desire for power amongst the individuals involved and this leads to fallouts and fractious relationships.

There will be no let-up in our efforts to pursue these small groups.

Our strategic response

As our Northern Ireland manifesto at the general election made clear, for this Government there are no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole. To this end we are providing £160 million of additional ring-fenced funding to support the PSNI’s work to tackle the Severe threat from terrorism during the current spending round, £25 million to tackle paramilitary activity; and a 30% real term increase in cross-Government spending on counter-terrorism.

MI5, which this month marks 10 years since it assumed responsibility from PSNI for national security intelligence, work in Northern Ireland continues to work hand in hand with PSNI, An Garda Siochana and other security partners in this task. Several dissident republican terrorist attacks have been prevented this year and PSNI have recovered a large amount of terrorist material—firearms, explosives and a range of improvised explosive devices—which has undoubtedly helped to keep communities safe.

In July, we saw the sentencing of Ciaran Maxwell, to 23 years in prison (the last five of which are to be served on license), for producing bombs and other munitions in Great Britain and Northern Ireland which were destined for use by dissident republican terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the police and other agencies in successfully bringing this case before the courts. This has undoubtedly saved lives and this significant jail sentence is an indication of the harm he posed.

As of 30 September 2017, in Northern Ireland, there have been 121 arrests and 6 individuals charged under the Terrorism Act this year. There have been four national security attacks, the same as the total number in 2016. This compares to a total of 16 attacks in 2015 and 40 in 2010. Although there has been a reduction in the number of national security incidents in recent years, terrorist attack planning continues with lethal intent and capability. Vigilance in the face of this continuing threat remains essential.

Tackling paramilitary activity

Paramilitary activity by both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations, continues to be a blight on the communities in which they operate. So far this year there have been two paramilitary related deaths, 19 casualties of paramilitary style shootings and 57 casualties of paramilitary style assaults. Paramilitary activity was never justified in the past and cannot be justified today. These people target the most vulnerable members of their communities. The stark reality is that they are not helping but instead exerting control and fear over them. The perpetrators are criminals who use the cloak of paramilitary activity to line their own pockets and impoverish communities.

The Government are strongly supporting ongoing efforts to tackle the scourge of paramilitarism and organised crime in Northern Ireland. Through the Fresh Start agreement, of November 2015 we are providing £25 million over five years to support a Northern Ireland Executive programme of activity. This resource is being matched by the Executive, giving a total of £50 million over five years—2016 to 2021. We are working closely with Executive Departments and their statutory partners to deliver commitments set out in the Executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime, to rid society of all forms of paramilitary activity and groups. Progress on the implementation of the Executive action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime will be monitored by the independent reporting commission (IRC), which was established under the Fresh Start agreement and legally constituted in August. The IRC’s overarching objective is to promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity, support long-term peace and stability and enable stable and inclusive devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Good progress has been made during the last year. Projects and interventions have been developed to provide mentoring support for young men; to promote lawfulness among young people; and to enable more women to become involved in community development work. An indictable cases process was implemented from May 2017 with the aim of speeding up the justice system in certain serious cases often linked to paramilitary groups. In addition to this, the PSNI has made significant progress with regard to the number of arrests and seizures from those involved in organised crime linked to paramilitary groups. It is now working with the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue & Customs through a co-located, dedicated paramilitary crime taskforce.

As of 26 September 2017, investigations have resulted in just under 100 arrests and 200 searches. Sixty-six people had been charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service. Around £450,000 worth of criminal assets were seized or restrained including over £157,000 in cash. Drugs with an estimated street value of around £230,000, guns, ammunition and pipe bombs and other goods including a Range Rover and a number of mobile food stalls were all seized.

Conclusion

Significant progress have been made, but the Severe threat from violent dissident republican terrorist groups remains and we must be vigilant to this. There are still those who wish to murder public servants and commit acts of terror. Many people still live in fear of paramilitaries. Through the excellent work of PSNI, MI5 and security partners including An Garda Siochana, we will continue to bring those who seek to cause harm in our society to justice. I would like to thank everyone who works to protect the public for their ongoing service. There never has been, and there never will be, any place for terrorism or paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. We all must play our part in helping to rid Northern Ireland of this blight on our society, so that we can continue to build a brighter, more prosperous future and a stronger Northern Ireland for everyone.

[HCWS189]

Women and Equalities

Equalities

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On 29 June I informed the House that women normally resident in Northern Ireland would no longer be charged for abortions received in England. Since the date of the announcement, the three main providers of abortions in England have not been charging residents of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to them and we will be reimbursing them for these services. We have now developed our ongoing plans for delivering this commitment, and I am pleased to update you on the arrangements.

We intend that women from Northern Ireland will access the service through existing providers of abortions in England, in the same way that women in England do. We have invited providers of abortions in England to apply for funding to extend their service provision to women from Northern Ireland. The funding will be accessed via a grant scheme that will be administered by the Department of Health. The cost of this service will be met by the Government Equalities Office with additional funding provided by HM Treasury. A small number of procedures will continue to be provided through the NHS where this is necessary for medical reasons. NHS providers will also be reimbursed by the Department of Health.

Women from Northern Ireland seeking medical support in England will be eligible for:

A consultation with an abortion provider in England, including an assessment of whether the legal grounds for an abortion are met;

the abortion procedure;

HIV or sexually transmitted infection testing as appropriate;

an offer of contraception from the abortion provider; and

Support with travel costs if the woman meets financial hardship criteria.

This is comparable with the service that women in England receive. We are establishing a central booking service that will be run by one of the providers who will be selected as part of the grant award process.

The central booking service will simplify the process for women who choose to access these services. It means that women from Northern Ireland will have a single telephone number to call and an appointment will be made with the most appropriate provider, based on the woman’s requirements, her medical condition and the availability of the providers. The central booking service will be operational before the end of the year. In the meantime women from Northern Ireland will continue to make their own arrangements with the providers, but will not be charged.

My original statement was clear this does not change the position in relation to the provision of abortions in Northern Ireland, which is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That remains the case. Our proposals do not include the provision of any services in Northern Ireland.

[HCWS192]